Back to School: Gaming & Screen Time Tips for Families

To help families get prepared for the academic year we put together a guide on Back to School: Gaming & Screen Time Tips for Families.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

This is a common chant amongst parents as summer comes to a close and the academic year is near.

Unfortunately, however, Back to School is also a high-stress time for both parents and children. Many families have relaxed gaming and screen time rules during the summer, and parents hope to regain control as their children embark on a new school year.

Before I get into practical steps, I’d like to caution parents not to underestimate the anxiety their children might be feeling about returning to school. COVID restrictions created numerous challenges in both learning and face-to-face socializing. Talk to your child and reassure them what they are feeling is normal and you are there to support them. What’s a parent to do?

Related: Screen Time Guidelines by Age.

Back to School: Gaming & Screen Time Tips for Families

back to school gaming and screen time tips for families

If you haven’t already, begin preparing yourselves and your children now for the academic year. Starting early will help to ease the transition and give your family enough time to get organized.

Find Replacement Activities

Replacement activities are critical for reducing gaming and screen time. Start researching or signing up for replacement alternative activities before after school battles begin. You can use our hobby finding tool.

What if you can’t find anything? Or none of your kid’s friends are available? Create your own.

Many of us learned the concept of “pods” during Covid. That concept can be extended to recreational activities too. Try posting in local FB groups to create interest-oriented pods. Anything can work, from establishing a regular time for kids to meet and toss a ball in a local park, to having jam sessions in the basement, to geocaching, and more; creating a pod also allows parents to share responsibilities for supervision and transportation.

One additional benefit is the opportunity for kids to practice face-to-face social skills with kids they may have never met before. Because engaging in activity provides a “focal point,” social anxiety might feel more manageable.

Related: Join our Free Parent Support Group on Facebook

Extend replacement activities into home life. Dedicate some time each week to teaching your kids practical skills (not just chores) like changing lightbulbs, tightening loose screws around the house, setting timers on outdoor lights and thermostats as the weather changes. They will thank you someday.

Introduce and practice a stress reduction activity that doesn’t involve gaming or screens (except for mindfulness and meditation apps). Learning breathing techniques is a great one because you can do them anywhere and anytime without any additional equipment. If the apps work better, find a few quick go-to’s, so no time is spent scrolling through the options. Yes- that is a thing. Mindfulness and meditation apps offer lots of options, and it is easy to get lost looking for one you like and lose track of time. You can avoid this with some planning.

Create a Media Plan

Recommended: For a full step-by-step guide on creating a realistic media plan for your family, get a copy of our signature family program RECLAIM.

Engage your kids in creating a media plan and notice and praise as often as possible when they follow it. In addition, you can guide the plan by letting them know what other things need to factor in, such as homework, exercise, family time, hygiene, etc.

Start transitioning current screen time use from less nutritive types to more nutritive. Back to school is a good time to review the types of games your kids are currently playing.

Some questions I like to consider are: How time-consuming is the game itself? Some are short bursts of entertainment and, therefore, may be easier to put down, but many can have long narratives and lots of levels. If they’ve been playing a particular game for a long time, you might ask them to consider if it is still fun? Are the games they play pro-social and age-appropriate? A great place to explore is Gamers for Good. Gamers for good is a nonprofit whose mission is to use games to build awareness of charitable opportunities.

Don’t make reading a book a requirement for screen time. It creates a negative association with reading. Yes, we all want our kids to read or read more but allowing that to be one of several acceptable non-screen activities that need to be done before digital use, such as drawing, building, phone calls, even just daydreaming, are good options.

If you have younger children get them used to the idea that you will be using parental monitoring tools and blocking inappropriate content. Even with older kids, you can establish guidelines for downloading new games and apps and for spending. You can read more about tips to keep your family safe with in-game spending.

Be Kind, Firm, Calm

Be clear about rules and expectations and consequences for infractions. But, please don’t overdo it. Kids make mistakes. A small consequence delivered consistently goes further than a big consequence that ends up not being enforceable because of something you didn’t anticipate; give them lots of chances to make a mistake, feel the pain short term and get a fresh start the following day. Watch our free webinar on Setting Effective Boundaries below:

Establish a “one device” rule during homework to minimize distractions. Turn off notifications on laptops and iPads too.

Turn off phones, tablets, and games one hour before bedtime. Parents can role model desired behaviors (as well as reap the benefits themselves) by making back to school-based use changes of their own. Some families find it less stressful to manage this by having kids turn in devices and controllers at a designated time and for everyone to charge their devices outside of the bedroom.

Need Help for a Gaming Problem?

If you need assistance, it can be helpful to speak with a professional who specializes in gaming and family issues. Our Reclaim Family Program is designed to reduce problematic gaming and conflict within the family. Alternatively, you can speak to a video game addiction therapist or apply for our coaching program.

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"I downloaded the guide and found new activities to try.” -Rusaw